Tales of loathsome tyrants and prophesied saviors aren't nearly so appealing when you are a royal bastard with a prophecy hanging over your head.


Prince Aidan doesn't try to make sure the guards stay with him as he drops out of the carriage to finish crossing the bridge into Saf the quicker way, on foot. I stay close to him as we enter the city's northern gate. Two guards trail along behind us.

I pull my cloak's hood again to make sure it hides my face in shadow; I don't want Father to find me because I'm careless. Few people are out, but many of those who are squint and moan as if light and noise pain them.

"Hangover Day," His Highness quips with a smile. "Many have hangovers, and many who don't at least pretend to out of respect for the holiday." His smile widens. "Actually, for the ones without hangovers, the constant ruckus of the past week give many people migraines. Though those who did indulge in the holiday are paying for it now. Those who haven't killed themselves, I should say."

From his tone, I know he's not kidding about the suicide. "Killed themselves?"

"Too much rakshi, whiskey, mead." He shrugs. "It can poison. Kill you."

We pass through a small courtyard with a guardroom just beyond the gate, then continue straight down the wide cobbled street, bypassing narrower alleyways. Clean stone buildings line this street—North Main, I notice on a sign—and Prince Aidan guides me quickly down the walkway.

One building's sign has a pair of shears: Trelanna's Trimmings.

That name doesn't sound good. When Prince Aidan tries to lead me in, I stop at the door and glance again at the sign.

Prince Aidan laughs. "It's how she keeps her business down," he says. "It's still swelled so it could easily be more than she can take, if she isn't careful. She studied in the faery school of sewing, before they realized she was merely a sage and kicked her out."

Sages know how magic works; mages actually use it. With what using magic can do to a person's sanity, sages are much more common than mages.

He grins and gives my arm a quick yank, causing me to stumble into the tailoring shop. "She'll probably be interested in adding a few of your techniques to what she knows." The guards follow us in.

"Lallie!" I'm startled to see the former scullery maid manning the counter. I know she said she had a new job in town as a shop girl, but I didn't expect to see her here. Saf is big.

She looks up abruptly, and her expression of schooled politeness shifts into pleased surprise. "Nallé!" she says warmly, but her cherrywood eyes dim a little upon seeing the prince. "Your Highness," she greets with quite a bit less warmth.

"What's that?" A woman sticks her gray-and-blonde head out from behind a mannequin. "Ah, Your Highness!" She pulls out her bulk—fat, rather than frame, and tastefully outfitted in a red-laced grey two-piece designed to fit rather than pretend she's smaller than she actually is—from behind the shelves.

The woman offers a small curtsy. "You've not outgrown your frock coats yet, have you?" she asks, worry coloring her tone.

"No, Miss Trelanna." Prince Aidan speaks with more respect than he is wont. "Nallé needs a dress for two months out, when she presents Claiborne…" He smiles slightly at Miss Trelanna's nodding. "I suppose Silva's told you of Nallé?"

The nodding continues without pause, Miss Trelanna's flabby chin jiggling. "Yes, yes. Nallé. Ward of King Aldrik, felvish name, all that." She waves dismissively as I jerk from her comment on my name. "Needs attire for her duties in front of the Court, does she?" Miss Trelanna hasn't stopped nodding, so her chin hasn't stopped jiggling, either. "I can do that."

"Thank you, Miss Trelanna."

"Can Lallie do it?" There's an awkward pause after my rushed question. "I'd rather Lallie do it."

"Miss Trelanna does all the clothing ordered from the royal treasury. Order your own dress if you want the girl to do it."

"Her name's Lallie; she—"

Lallie catches my eye and shakes her head with a smirk. 'Another time', she mouths.

Prince Aidan edges towards the door, and Miss Trelanna snorts in good humor. "And now you want to leave the girl here while you go study the hunting dogs, no doubt."

"I do breed them," Prince Aidan replies. He does?

"Mm, yes. I remember that you started that… two birthdays ago, was it? Right when you were old enough." She waves a pudgy finger in her prince's face. "Mind that you don't lose your father's funds, now."

"No." Prince Aidan's agreement oddly lacks his common good humor that has dominated the rest of his conversation with the tailor.

Prince Aidan nods at one of the guards. "Stay with Nallé."

He leaves me to Miss Trelanna's measuring.

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